I have seen tee shirts that declare, “I do not want to adult today.” Life is way too serious, and we have all been through a lot in the last few years. People are tired of being afraid and stressed. What does it mean to be an adult? Does it mean we forget to play and be silly? According to research, it should not. Data show that people have an easier time-solving puzzles after laughing at a joke or watching a comedy show. Having fun and being silly facilitates neuro-connections that allow for mental relaxation and creativity. Playing also has been shown to activate pleasure centers in the brain and release positive neurochemicals that make us calmer and more resilient. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that positive emotions and humor increase our cognitive capabilities by expanding our visual attention, making us more awake and alert, and improving our ability to connect with others. Play is a way to get out of a funk and can help us reduce tension and anxiety. A hearty and robust belly laugh improves physical health. Doing it regularly has been linked to decreased stress and inflammation. One of the reasons play is so fun is that it helps us be totally in the moment which allows us to feel alive and happy. If you watch young children play, they lose themselves and are immersed in an activity which makes it hard to get them to do what parents want them to do at times. 

Play connects us. I was moved by a story I heard years ago. During a Christmas Day truce in WWII, the English brought a soccer ball and a lively game ensued with the enemy. The Christmas truce became a celebration of love and connection bringing mortal enemies together for a moment in time.  

This is a reminder that the ability to laugh, have fun, let go, and be present for just a moment helps us bring the lightness of life to fruition. As a world traveler, I get tickled when people of different cultures and races find humor in the same thing, and we are belly laughing together. It promotes the highest form of humanity and our mutual desire for happiness, love, and fundamental interconnectedness. 

As I discovered the many benefits of play, I was thinking about the mental health of adolescents.  The rate of teen suicide in Colorado has increased by 58% in 3 years, making it the cause of 1 in 5 adolescent deaths. Why is this happening? Peter Gray Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College, opines that the decline of play may cause a reduction in the sense of control and intrinsic goals and a rise in anxiety and depression. He goes on to say that children’s freedom to play and explore, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined. Young people are engrossed in performance and making the grade. They are overscheduled and their free time is sucked up by social media. Games, activities, play and humor need to be increased in the life of an adolescent so they can experience abundant joy. 

Let’s work together to help children and adults experience the joy and pleasure of play. It is good for our mental health and our relationships.